- Mental health involves cultivating positive emotions rather than just minimizing negative emotions.
- It's helpful to target the full spectrum of positive emotions and put yourself in situations likely to evoke positive emotions.
- Noticing simple joys and reveling in others' successes can increase positivity.
People often think of mental health as primarily about minimizing negative emotions, like reducing anxiety, anger, loneliness, and sadness. However, your skills for cultivating positive emotions can matter just as much when it comes to your overall happiness.
Here are five mechanisms that will help you feel abundant positive emotions. If you master these skills, they'll go a long way to helping you feel like a happier person overall.
1. Notice and appreciate simple joys.
There's comfort and delight all around us, but some people are better at noticing it than others. Do you notice the cozy feeling when you get into bed each night? Do you pay attention to your child's smile or the smell of their skin? Do you notice other people excelling in their roles, like the school crossing guard who does a spectacular job? Do you appreciate other people's creativity, like the coworker who puts together unique outfits?
Appreciate what you experience regularly (e.g., putting on your comfortable slippers each evening) and the novel (e.g., the person not realizing they're singing out loud in public).
2. Put yourself in situations likely to evoke positive emotions.
Do you put yourself in situations that are likely to stir positive emotions? Do you visit awe-inspiring national parks? Do you engage in new activities and situations frequently? Do you incorporate excitement and surprise into your life?
3. Target the full spectrum of positive emotions.
In mental health writing, there's a lot of focus on feeling calm. In reality, there are a huge variety of positive emotions beyond relaxation and the absence of stress. To maximize your happiness, you'll want to regularly experience the full spectrum of positive emotions, not just a few.
Some examples of positive emotions are joy, contentment, awe, surprise, excitement, delight, calm, satisfaction, amazement, love, connection, curiosity, pride, and vigor/zest/energy. What others can you think of?
Add to this list yourself, then search for lists of positive emotions to see what you missed. If a particular positive emotion on your list seems unusual or unfamiliar, you may not be putting much effort into experiencing it. Increasing that emotion, by deliberately targeting it, could provide an easy or profound happiness win.
4. Capitalization and enjoying others' successes.
How do you feel when you see other people succeeding and enjoying their lives? Do you feel envious, or do you feel joy and excitement on their behalf?
If you only rely on your own experiences to provide positive emotions, that's limiting compared to if other people's experiences are also a source of positive emotions for you.
5. Elicit positive emotions in others.
How good are you at making other people beam with pride, laugh, smile, or feel loved, relaxed, surprised, joyful, or excited? To some extent, emotions are socially contagious. Being around happy people is more pleasant than being around unhappy, irritated people.
But perhaps most importantly, eliciting positive emotions in others allows you to enjoy those emotions too. Be generous with your compliments. If you think something nice about someone, say it. Give someone the compliment they didn't know they were craving, and relish seeing how it boosts them. Think of this concept as reflected happiness.
Expressing yourself can elicit joy in others too—for example, wearing more color, displaying your artwork or other creative pursuits, or singing.
We can't always control negative stressors, but we can to a greater extent control what positive emotions we put effort into experiencing. Build these skills through practice, and relish in the results.
Although the principles expressed in this post may seem simple, with effort, you can become a true master of these skills. And you won't be the best, happiest version of yourself without this.
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